MANY who earn their crust in London dream of living in the country, and there are good reasons to make 2010 the year to make the move. While the property markets in the desirable parts of London have now fully recovered, with prices similar to those achieved in the 2007 peak, the same isn’t true everywhere. It’s a gap that many are keen to exploit. “Outside London prices have not had the same increase or recovery as we’ve seen in the capital,” says Lucy Russell, managing director of top-end buying and selling agents Quintessentially Estates. “For this reason, many of our clients see it as a very advantageous time to move out to the countryside.”
Recent research by Knight Frank backs this up, finding that, per square foot, Suffolk properties are now approximately half the price of equivalent-sized homes in London – 54.2 per cent, in fact. The gap narrows slightly in Oxford, where homes are 30.5 per cent cheaper. For desirable Bath and North-East Somerset, it is reasonable to expect a 34 per cent reduction compared with properties in the capital.
Plenty of Londoners are now making the move, particularly as lots couldn’t last year: Knight Frank’s country house department reported its busiest month on record last November. Meanwhile, agents in the Surrey department of Savills report that 50 per cent of their buyers are relocating from the capital, mostly couples with young children or those planning on starting a family, from south-west London, predominantly Clapham, Wandsworth, Putney, Chiswick and Fulham.
So where to move? We’ve suggested a few examples of towns and villages less than an hour’s train journey from central London, in order to help bring that dream of greener living just a little bit closer.
Time to London: 35mins
Average property price according to Rightmove.co.uk: £539,792
Berkhamsted – or Berko, as it is affectionately known – lies just outside of the M25, close to Hemel Hempstead and a 35-minute train journey from Euston. It has lots of independent shops, selling antiques and vintage clothes, a Waitrose and a much-loved Art Deco cinema, called the Rex. According to Chris Moorhouse, of the Berkhamsted branch of Knight Frank, prices start at around £200,000 for a two-bed flat; three-bed Victorian semis in town start at £450,000 and go up to £600,000. Four and five-bed houses go for anywhere between £500,000 and £1m. “People love the area because it’s incredibly easy to get to Euston. We’re also at the foot of the Chiltern hills for excellent Sunday afternoon walks, and there is a pleasant café culture in the centre,” he says.
Time from London: 50minutes
Average house price according to Rightmove.co.uk: £381,686
Farnham is a Georgian market town with lots to do: venues like Farnham Maltings have plays, opera, gigs, cinema evenings and antique fairs. There is also a castle, river, good walking and the sea 30 minutes away. According to Savills, 50 per cent of clients are Londoners moving out. Three-bed semis in town start at around £350,000, and Savills has a four-bed detached house with just under half an acre of land for £925,000. “We’re seeing lots of clients, particularly in the last few months who are after somewhere with good schools and more space for their kids to run around” they say.
Time from London: 37 mins
Average house price, according to Rightmove.co.uk: £233,533
As of last December, commuting from Ashford to central London takes a super-speedy 37 mins; before the Javelin train it was 80 minutes. This means that now, weirdly, it’s easier to get into central London from this market town in Kent than it is from many other parts of the capital.
"We’ve seen a huge spike in Londoners moving to areas around Ashford as a direct result of the new train,” says Edward Church, of the Canterbury office of Strutt & Parker.
The majority of the calls Church gets are from couples with small children and good jobs in central London, who are looking for more greenery, better schooling, proximity to the countryside and easy access to Paris courtesy of Eurostar, which takes you to Gare du Nord in just over two hours from the station.
Popular areas just outside of Ashford include Smarden, a picturesque Kentish village, and the equally lovely Pluckley. Here, £500,000 buys you a four-bed house in the village with decent garden, says Church – a good 30 per cent cheaper than the equivalents in Guildford. Nearby Rye, which has a good selection of local shops is slightly more affordable, according to Sue Carne of the Country Homesearch Country – here a four-bed home with garden goes for £460,000.
Time from London: 36 minutes
Average house price according to Rightmove.co.uk: £194,915
Rochester, found 30 miles from Ashford, is also on the same speedy Javelin train line as Ashford – and it takes just over half an hour to get to King’s Cross.
It is a historical, attractive town with a cobbled high street and lots of cafes, pubs, restaurants and independent shops (no chains to be found here). At the end of the high street lies the River Meadow, and an impressive castle and cathedral dominate the skyline.
According to John Woodhall, area director of Your Move, there is strong demand for property from people relocating from London. The area’s affordability is a major carrot: two-bed terraced houses start at £140,000 and a three-bed house with garden at £300,000. “There are good state schools in the area, and just a 10-minute drive out of the centre and you’re in deep countryside,” he says.
Time from London: 20 minute drive followed by 32-minute train journey
Average house price according to Rightmove.co.uk: £592,498
Felsted village in north Essex is full of coloured townhouses and is surrounded by countryside. It is 12 miles from Chelmsford train station, taking you to London Liverpool Street in 32 minutes. Cambridge is just 40 miles away. The only problem is a shortage of stock, warns Joan Oddey, senior negotiator at the Chelmsford office of John D Wood. Expect to pay £450,000 minimum for a three-bed home, and between £800,000 to £900,000 for a four-bed. Neighbouring Fairstead, and Little Waltham are also popular.